Summer Learning Loss: should I be bothered?

>> Wednesday, 25 July 2012

I may have mentioned on here - once or twice-  how long my sons' summer holidays are, but just in case you missed it due to having been uninterested in our goings on over the last month (hard to believe, but I'm prepared to consider that possibility), here it is again;

Ten weeks.

Or, if you work better in figures: 10 weeks.

That's 70 days. 50 school days.  Or, to put it another way, 350 hours (based on the average amount of hours they spend in class on a school day).

In fact, over the summer, the Boys are off on holiday for a longer period of time than any when they are continuously in school throughout the school year, once you take into account half term and other holidays.

Now, I recall my 6 week summer holidays - whilst I was at primary school - as stretching out seemingly for ever.  I know I can't possibly have lived the 1950's Enid Blyton style existence I remember, but when I look back I see weeks spent on the south coast (foreign holidays didn't feature for us, particularly), cream teas, late evenings, and after breakfast the next day, packing up sandwiches and heading off for days of adventuring in the countryside around home.  We would wave goodbye to Mum at around 10am and turn up in time for tea later that afternoon.  There were books to be read, camp-outs in the garden to be had, and of course not so infrequent spats with my younger sister to fit in.

What I can't remember is any pressure to do school work over the summer break.

And yet, here I am, 35 years later,  with 2 children of my own, determined that whilst we are all going to have fun and relax over the holidays, Boys #1 and #2 will not fall prey to Summer Learning Loss*.

This does not mean I have enrolled them in maths camps and science seminars (although we did all have fun at the Holland Park Ecology Centre on Monday spending a couple of hours pond dipping in the name of learning about amphibians), but it does mean that they each spend half an hour every Monday to Friday morning doing something approaching school work.  Boy #1, who's reading is more than fantastic, gets to practice some basic math problems (not his preferred school subject) and to work on his handwriting, (sometimes by writing letters to friends which I scan and email to their parents), and Boy #2 and I 'discuss' (for which read, 'battle over') sight words and number bonds.

We have a reward structure in place; at the end of a 4 week period when they've done 30 minutes or more for 5 days in those weeks, they get to go and pick out a reasonably-priced toy.  Negotiations on what 'reasonably priced' actually means are currently underway; since the first 'reward day' is this Friday, I think we need to reach an agreement on that sharpish...

Having come this far - we're now nearly 6 weeks into the summer break** with only 4 left to go - I'm hoping that we'll manage to maintain momentum for the next month and that the shock for them of returning to more structured learning come the end of August won't be as great as it might otherwise have been.  Every now and again though, as I cajole Boy #2 to 'look at the word' in the hope he might remember 'had' next time (yes, it is like that), I do ask myself if this is the right thing to do.

It's 30 minutes in a day.  That's not so much to ask them to do, surely?  Or am I just being an over-anxious mother; should I instead just chill out and let them do whatever they want over the loooooonnnnggg summer break?


If only all biology lessons could be like this...

* In case you're not familiar with this term (ha!),  it refers to the loss of children's academic skills and knowledge over the summer break.  See here for Wikipedia's entry on the subject.

** Yes, you did read that right. We have already had one and a half months of summer holidays.  How the hell did that happen?


The mum of all trades 25 July 2012 at 23:09  

We have 8 weeks holidays here in NIreland. I do a little bit of written work and maths every other day with mine. They are reading every night as well. I don't think it does any harm as long as its just kept fun. For example the writing work we've been doing is a summer diary or on the olympics. The camps your ones are going to sound ideal to me. I'm a teacher and my husband is a headteacher so we might be a bit more aware of the 'loss' over the Summer.

heather 25 July 2012 at 23:47  

My stepdaughter (we're in the U.S.) has reams of homework assigned over the summer. It is all mind numbingly boring worksheets about seemingly random subjects. It is causing much crying and whining when we make her do a bit every day so it all gets done.

manycoloured-days 26 July 2012 at 00:59  

Do you know the ixl and time4learning websites? Great for those 30 minute summer sessions, I think and the first one has its own built-in reward system (perhaps the latter too, but I can't remember), takes the pressure off you.

Pippa W 26 July 2012 at 09:35  

The thing is when you and I were younger drinking lashings of Lemonade and Ginger Beer whilst out without parental supervision we also found time to sit and read, or to write a letter etc. We had a "natural" alternative to the loss over the summer.

These days most children spend the entire Summer Holiday playing computer games or watching TV (I'm just as guilty my two are currently playing a computer game whilst watching the TV) and it is needed for them to work over the holidays just to keep them in the swing of things.

I asked Tops teacher for help this summer and she came up with a lovely little Summer programme for us to work on to help Tops in the one area that she isn't as good in (writing she takes ages writing small amounts) and it's only twenty minutes but just means that she doesn't fall further behind by not practising her skills.

One last thing, think of the fun you do as learning opportunities. You are making cakes? It's a math lesson as you weigh things, set timers, count etc. You are doing some house work? Then make it PE. You are watching TV? Put on the subtitles and turn down the sound so that they are reading!

Working Mum 26 July 2012 at 19:38  

I think the summer holidays are the time for a different type of education. I like to spend quality time with my daughter learning life skills (yesterday's was how to use a vegetable peeler - she was so proud of herself!)or getting out and about and learning about the world around us (amazingly, this has led to us reading the witches' recipe section of Macbeth when we got home). Similar ideas to Pippa's, really.

I think the summer holidays are an important time for children to recharge batteries and learn new things, not to continue school work. And that's coming from a teacher!

Children can forget what they've learned at school overnight, never mind the holidays, so I would say, don't get anxious about it, don't become the big bad mummy making them do schoolwork all summer, just make sure they don't watch TV for 10 weeks! There are plenty of other educational opportunities for you to enjoy together.

Expat mum 27 July 2012 at 14:00  

Ten weeks? Is that all, says she suffering three whole months of summer holidays!
I agree with you about getting them to do a little bit of school work every so often because they get so rusty. I got the Little Guy to do some piano practice the other night and he came back to me in tears because he couldn't play his last piece. He's at a very exhausting summer day camp at the moment and can barely brush his teeth when he gets home (yay) but he still has another 4 weeks after this finishes so I think I will start a little learning program with some incentives built in. Thanks for reminding me.

nappy valley girl 27 July 2012 at 14:08  

My sons have been so busy at summer camp that they've been too exhausted to do any academic work so far this summer (and like you, we've got 10 weeks). We have however been attending a 'junior book club' that a friend organised. The kids all read the same book and then we go and discuss it in the children's room at the library. It's been great, got them reading and talking about books in a new way and it doesn't seem like school work.

spudballoo 31 July 2012 at 08:47  

We are doing something similar. We read every day and we do about 40 minutes of our 'holiday diaries' and some homework. The holiday diary is stealth writing practice as both my boys are behind with this (we have just, at half term, taken them out of the village school and are now educating them privately). If they write in the diary every day for the 8.5 week holiday, and not forgetting the 0.5, we will go to Legoland for a few days in the Autumn.

Homework is learning joined up writing and maths for the 6yo, and writing for the 5yo. I am so bored of doing it, but it's got to be done because we are catching up.

I think they might as well get used to doing 'some' work during the holidays because in a few short years it will be compulsory. And it's only a short period of every day.


Knackered Mother 1 August 2012 at 09:57  

I bow to your dedication! But man, 10 weeks...we've got 5 out of 6 weeks left. Plan to get the boys to do a holiday scrapbook like Spud but that's about it, to be honest. Suddenly feeling a bit slovenly...!

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